Sometimes labeling a book with a standard genre can be tricky. I've written one such book that is a on the border between literary and commercial fiction. It's a romance, but it's also a suspense with a little paranormal / sci fi / fantasy and subtle Christian themes. Trying to stick such a beautifully complex book in a narrow genre box is difficult and trying to pitch such a project near impossible. I would like to share my own personal system for classifying books. Although it is much less confusing, much more entertaining, and extremely easy to understand, I somehow doubt the publishing industry is quite ready to adopt the Tru Genre Classification System for Fiction.
1. Health Food
This genre includes all of those books that you had to read in high school and hated, but, hey, they were good for you. These are well-written, literary reads meant to make you think and broaden your knowledge or perspective. In short, they're like health food. The sugarless, tasteless morsels specifically engineered to be healthy. You eat them because you have to or think it will be good for you. Now, that's not to say these books can't be enjoyable. Some people love their tofu. I like to eat healthy too. I can appreciate a good stir fry. But, I'm certainly not going to eat stir frys and tofu for every meal, every day! Frankly, I enjoy my food too much, and in terms of literature, I don't like to always have to stretch my brain when I'm reading. However, there is a benefit to health food (besides the waistline). After you've choked the stuff down, you feel fabulously proud of yourself. You almost want to congratulate yourself and shake your own hand. And, trust me, if you finish a book like War and Peace, you deserve more than a handshake. Don't they give out medals for that?
This genre includes most of today's literary fiction. Its purpose is not to entertain as much as it is to make you think or feel. The actual writing is the art, an underlying message the focus. Unfortunately, for me, the literature can sometimes get in the way of the enjoyment. These are books that can get rave reviews as the next great American novel, yet as a reader, I may have trudged through the whole thing only to feel stupid for having completely missed the message others obviously so appreciated. These are books that can be nutritious. Vegetables are good for you and come in an amazing variety. Also, they can be considerably less tedious and more enjoyable than Health Food.
I can't leave this genre without a word about the Onions. These are books that are beautifully written and make you ball your eyes out. They are tragic, sad, heartbreaking, and touching. They are so moving that, after having read one, you either feel like a better person or feel very depressed. Nicholas Sparks is a master of Onions. It amazes me that a lot of people love Onions so much, they don't consider a book to be good unless it makes them cry. Some people like Onions in everything they eat. They don't even want to read something unless it's an Onion. Personally, I'm not terribly fond of Onions. Reading to me is an escape. Life has enough sadness that I don't want a book to make me feel bad. I get so emotionally involved in books and characters that I go through a depression should it end tragically. Now, my dislike does not mean that I will never write an Onion book. I don't like to cry myself, but I kinda like making other people cry. How sadistic is that?
3. Meat and Potatoes
These are books that you really enjoy but have deeper themes or meaning. Some people feel like the ultimate meal includes Meat and Potatoes. Likewise this genre aims to be the best of both worlds: entertaining yet meaningful. I would classify The Help by Kathryn Stockett as a Meat and Potatoes book. Fun to read but deals with deeper issues. I would also classify the Harry Potter series as Meat and Potatoes. So entertaining, fun, and imaginative, yet there are deeper themes of love, friendship, and the battle between good and evil. I'm an Idaho girl, I love my Meat and Potatoes!
4. Potato Chips
These books are fun. Their main purpose is to entertain, possibly give a small dimension for escape. There isn't a focused deep message or meaning, although there definitely can be subtle themes. Potato Chips aren't healthy. This isn't literature, friends. It is just plain yummy, and, yes, it's difficult to eat just one. Sometimes, I'm tired of thinking. I read to relax. I don't want to deal with heavy issues and messages that may or may not be resolved in the end. I just want Potato Chips!
Again, I can't leave this genre without saying a word about the Cheesy variety of Potato Chips. Let's be honest, not all books are well-written or realistic. The characters, plot, or emotions of the book are unrealistic, sickeningly sweet and well . . . Cheesy. This is the type of book that makes you want to stop reading and roll your eyes. As much as I like Potato Chips, I really have a hard time with the Cheesy variety. In fact, I have a real-life food allergy to cheese, and I really think it must apply to books as well. I may read a Cheesy Potato Chip book, but it's really tough for me to read all the words in between rolling my eyes and giggling at the silliness of it all.
5. Pork Rinds
Finally, we have the books that are not healthy at all. These are the books that you really don't want anyone to know that you snuck off and read. Maybe poorly written, maybe not. No real underlying message, just pure entertainment. This may be the book you have guilt over even reading or feel disturbed about when it's over. It's not meant to be Health Food, gourmet, or even Potato Chips. I don't really care for Pork Rinds at all. Now I understand some people love their Pork Rinds. They sit down and eat the whole bag if no one is looking. I personally find them pretty disgusting. But how would we appreciate the other genres without a few Pork Rinds around?
So, there you have it. The Tru Genre Classification System. Easy, understandable, and so much fun. I would add that this system is a continuum and very subjective. A book that I classify as a Meat and Potatoes, might be a Vegetable to someone else. For instance, I love Pride and Prejudice. For me, it is Meat and Potatoes. For someone else it would probably be a Vegetable or even a Health Food. But, the beauty of this system is, if I call something a Potato Chip book, now everyone knows exactly what kind of book it is!
Now, the obvious question is, what kind of book is my new novella, BAGGAGE CLAIM. I'm not going to lie. It's definitely not Health Food or Pork Rinds. It's not even a Vegetable. I would classify it as a high end Potato Chip. It's extremely entertaining and exciting. You may not be able to put it down. It's romantic, smart, and action packed. It's everything you want from entertainment, minus the gore and R rated features. But, there's not a strong message or even deep complex themes. There is definitely some deeper meaning, but it's subtle, only becoming more pronounced in the second and third book. So, bottom line, it's a Potato Chip. Close to Meat and Potatoes, but not quite there. And, really who doesn't love Potato Chips?